Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The future of interactivity

“The world is flat”, proclaims the title of Thomas Friedman’s international bestseller which analyzes globalization. While the title metaphorically refers to a level playing field amongst businesses everywhere, it also seems to allude unintentionally to the growing number of flat screens we keep looking at in the course of a day. Between the laptop, smart phone, TV, gaming console, book reader and navigator device, we increasingly endeavor to experience life through these screens, driven by software. Good news for software developers? Depends.

People don't just want to stare at screens. They want a two-way dialog. They want to actively participate in things happening online, and not just watch passively. Little wonder, then, that people are increasingly demanding interactivity in this serious business of dealing with the world through screens. Software developers should understand the implications of this shift. As a food for thought, I have put together ten predictions for the not-so-distant future of interactivity.

10. Users will get a wider choice of input mechanisms. For those of you who use the iPhone or the the Wii, you know what I mean. It’s not just the keyboard and mouse anymore. From accelerometers and multi-touch screens to 3D cameras, there are a host of new input mechanisms vying for mainstream usage.

9. Less will be more. Interactivity designers will have to make life simpler for users. As buy decisions are increasingly shifting to end-users, minimizing user learning curve will become a priority. That means, the less a user needs to learn, the better.

8. Broad platform support will be crucial. At least in the near future, developers will have to make sure they build interactivity according to each client platform’s capabilities, form factor and preferred plug-in. There seems no consensus on a standard in sight.

7. New applications will emerge. In areas where knowledge exchange is at a premium, interactivity will gain momentum. E-learning, presentations, and web pages appear to be good starting points. Other applications will emerge.

6. Technology will evolve. Rapid interactivity will go mainstream, because not everyone wants to write programs, and yet everyone wants control over the look and feel of interactivity through customization.

5. Composite applications will thrive. There will be opportunities to integrate interactivity using mash-ups and embeddable components. Both on-premise and SaaS applications will present such opportunities in the enterprise and consumer software space.

4. Customer interaction will go online. Increasingly, a lot of interaction with customers and other stakeholders will be forced to shift online, and this will create a pull for interactivity.

3. Diverse platforms will support interactivity. While primarily the PC will continue to be best suited for interactive experiences, other devices will also afford unique opportunities for interactivity based on their inherent capabilities and usage patterns.

2. Web 2.0 will increasingly go interactive. User generated content will embrace interactivity through embedded social interactions.

1. End-users will gain the most. As interactivity goes mainstream, bringing about more engaging and meaningful online experiences, the end-user will be the ultimate winner.


  1. Vikas, Truly useful set of predictions there. They offer a great deal of information on where the next-gen applications should be headed. I was just wondering if Mobile Based interaction deserve a mention here either independently or as a sub-point, though there is a alluding reference to it in your blog. It does seem like a formidable carrier.

  2. This is brilliant, I presume this means everyone can be a publisher. Imagine the amount of content being made available. This also means that the content which is not instantly involving will lose out. And the battle to build fan followings for ones content will be more intense than ever.

  3. Vikas, I agree. Yes, the world is flat, and getting flatter. What we are observing here is a mass democratization where the gatekeepers in all fields are increasingly irrelevant because there are so many channels – so many ways around them. We are already seeing broader platform support. Even the mighty Microsoft is losing its grip of control. The web is the platform. Windows doesn't matter so much. You can emulate it on a Mac, Unix, or open source machine, or you can bypass it completely because the browser (or iPhone, or Wii) is the operating system. Software as a Service (SaaS) is also contributing to the great decentralization. Formerly imbedded applications now reside on a cloud where they can be designed or modified by the user or customer. So, even enterprise applications become more fluid, adaptable and responsive to what the user's or the customer's wants and needs. As programming no longer requires programming, the universe will expand in unimagined ways. An explosion of creativity and ideas will emerge. Traditional roles and structures will change, collapse, or explode to be replaced by new and better solutions that are the children of interactivity. Those who cling to central planning and control will be shrugged off or left behind. The key is flexibility, adaptability, and speed to competency. Up until recently, our technology and our media resided in a kind of box that put a frame around the way people worked, acted, and interacted. The trends you highlight point to the destruction of these limits where interactivity is not just nice to have, it is the catalyst of growth and regeneration. In this context, what Marshall McLuhan famously said has never been truer, "The medium is the message."